New York City High School Graduation Rate Hits Record High Level!

Dear Commons Community,

Mayor Bill de Blasio announced yesterday that New York City high schools managed record-high graduation rates in 2018. As of August, more than three-quarters of city seniors — 75.9% — graduated high school, breaking the city’s previous record of 74.3% that was set in 2017.

Likewise, citywide dropout rates slipped to a record low of 7.5% last year, down from 7.8% the year before. The increase in graduation rates and decrease in dropouts is consistent with steady improvements made in recent years.

“For the fifth year in a row, graduation rates are up, dropout rates are down, and the achievement gap has narrowed — and there will be more progress to come,” de Blasio explained.

“Congratulations to the students, educators and their families on yet another record-breaking year in our classrooms,” he added.

New York’s high school graduation rate also increased in 2018 but the improvements in the rest of the state failed to keep pace with city’s gains.

Figures released Wednesday showed the statewide graduation rate reached a record high of 80.4% in 2018, compared to 80.2% in 2016.

The state calculates graduation numbers using a June deadline. The city uses an August deadline, which produces higher percentages since it accounts for students who graduate after attending summer school.

Across the city and around the state, black and Hispanic kids, students with disabilities, and those learning English continued to face achievement gaps in 2018 graduation rates.

But some of those gaps narrowed as black and Hispanic students made outsize gains in the city.

The citywide graduation rate was 70% for Hispanic students in 2018, a 1.6-point increase from the previous year.

And the citywide graduation rate was 72.1% for black students last year, a 2.1-point increase from 2017.

By way of comparison, white and Asian students’ numbers grew by just 1 point and 0.8 point, respectively.

Dropout rates fell across the city in 2018 and especially in Brooklyn, where it dropped from 7.4% to 6.7%.

But the dropout rate remained at 12% in the Bronx and Hispanic students faced especially high dropout rates citywide, with one in 10 Hispanic teens leaving high school before graduation.

Our colleague Professor David Bloomfield said these raw numbers don’t tell the full story.

“Among other factors, there are more pathways to graduation than in past years and other big cities pull down state averages.”

Still the numbers are going in the right direction.  Congratulations to all especially the students and teachers.


Weather Forecaster Al Roker Rips Kentucky Gov. Matt Bevin for Sending Wrong Message to Students for Staying Home during Record-Breaking Cold Temperatures!

Dear Commons Community,

The polar vortex hit here in New York last night plunging the temperatures to -1 degree.  In the midwest, it was much colder with temperatures in the minus double-digits.  At least nine deaths have been linked to the vortex sweeping across the Midwest and Northeast. Yesterday, Chicago dropped to a temperature reading of minus 23 degrees Fahrenheit. In preparation for these frigid and dangerous conditions, many schools were wisely closed.  However, Kentucky Gov. Matt Bevin, stated that America was “getting soft” for closing schools in the Midwest in anticipation of the record-breaking low temperatures.   The Republican governor appeared on 840 WHAS radio on Tuesday and said that he was concerned closing schools due to extremely cold weather was “sending messages to our young people that if life is hard, you can curl up in the fetal position somewhere in a warm place and just wait until it stops being hard.”

Weather forecaster Al Roker had little patience for Bevin’s dumb comments.  As Roker was giving an updated weather report  on MSNBC, he took a moment at the end to address Bevin’s comments.

“I just have to say, this nitwit governor in Kentucky, saying that ‘Oh, we’re weak,’” the “Today” show weatherman said, referring to Bevin’s radio interview. “These are kids who are going to be in subzero wind chill. No, cancel school! Stop it!”

Roker wrapped up his thoughts by concluding, “I’m glad you’re not a teacher!”

Watch Roker’s comments in the video above.

And stay warm and stay home!



New Book: “Democracy and Truth: A Short History” by Sophia Rosenfeld!

Democracy and Truth

Dear Commons Community,

I have just finished reading Democracy and Truth: A Short History  by Sophia Rosenfeld, professor of history at the University of Pennsylvania.  Rosenfeld covers a lot of ground from longstanding political philosophies that touch on  the foundations of democracies and the will of the people (or maybe the crowd) to our present-day obsessions with “fake news” and the loss of trust in our institutions.  She describes Trump’s brand populism as “nastier, crasser, and more belligerent” that breeds “the tyranny of the majority that so worried the authors of the U.S. Constitution in the 1790s”.  She also comments on how social media platforms make it so much more difficult for the public to distinguish what is true and what is not.  And how we are now engaged in “information warfare” with global organizations looking to undermine our democratic principles.

I recommend this book highly.  Below is a more extensive review that appeared in The Guardian.



The Guardian

Democracy and Truth: A Short History  by Sophia Rosenfeld review – the roots of our current predicament

Fara Dabhoiwala

Wed 19 Dec 2018

Barely 30 years ago, at the end of the cold war, it seemed to some western observers that democracy had triumphed for good. In Francis Fukuyama’s famous formulation, history had come to an end. No better form of government was conceivable; it was inevitable that all nations around the world would eventually develop into liberal democracies. These days we seem to be moving in the opposite direction. Across Europe, Asia and the Americas, democratic norms and institutions are under assault. As well as being subjected to hyper-partisan politicians, dictators and demagogues, citizens everywhere find themselves drowning in a toxic avalanche of misinformation, lies and untruths. What on earth has happened to democracy, and to truth?

Over the course of this year, there has been no shortage of attempts to make sense of our predicament and its historical roots. Recent commentators have variously looked back to the 1930s for analogies with the present, pointed to the effects of the 2008 economic crash, or tried to pin the blame on the rise of postmodern theory since the 1960s.

In her short, sharp book, the historian Sophia Rosenfeld takes a longer and deeper view. Her argument is that, ever since its origins in the late 18th century, modern democracy has had a peculiar relationship to truth: the current crisis merely epitomises that. We shouldn’t focus only on external causes, for our system of government carries within it the seeds of its own destruction. As in her previous work on the twisted history of democratic political rhetoric, it’s a simultaneously reassuring and unsettling message.

The essential problem, as Rosenfeld sees it, is that democratic government is predicated on an aspiration to collective truth. Unlike older systems of aristocratic and monarchical rule, which excluded the people from power and stressed the need for administrative secrecy, the new republics of the late 18th century, and the more egalitarian mass democracies that succeeded them, depended on openness and trust between citizens and rulers. Through the free discussion and united wisdom of the educated and the masses, errors would be dispelled, “public knowledge” established and societies advanced. And yet, she points out, the reality has never lived up to this powerful ideal. From the outset, democratic societies contained vast inequalities of power and education, and their media have always been driven by commercial and partisan imperatives. In practice, instead of a free civil marketplace of ideas, politics has always been a vicious fight over the truth and the power of determining it.

How far should political decisions be based on the understanding of the majority, and how far on the wisdom of experts?

Rosenfeld’s model of democratic truth as always contingent, arising through endless discussion, in a world in which people accepted that differences of opinion were inevitable, captures something distinctively new and valuable about Enlightenment approaches to knowledge. But it largely ignores a powerful alternative presumption, at least as prevalent in the 18th century as it is today – that truth, in politics as in other spheres, was simple, self-evident and unitary. It needed only to be revealed: if some people couldn’t yet see it, that was only because they were deluded, or acting in bad faith. To early advocates of this strain of thought, the point of freedom of speech was not to encourage pluralism, but simply to allow the truth to break free from bondage and superstition. In such circumstances, the judgment or will of the people, they believed, was always bound to be united: divergence of opinion was a sign of error, conspiracy or worse.

This book focuses instead on another central dilemma of the democratic “truth regime”: the tension between elite knowledge and ordinary “common sense”. How far should our political decisions be based on the everyday understanding and buy-in of the majority of the population, and how far on the more specialised, less easily intelligible wisdom of legal, scientific or economic experts? How can we strike a workable balance between the two?

For all that they newly proclaimed the sovereignty of the people, 18th-century politicians also inherited an age-old belief in social hierarchy, and a deep disdain for the ignorance and volatility of the masses. That is why they limited the franchise, included senates and electoral colleges in their constitutions, and believed that nations should be led only by enlightened, propertied, educated white men. Over the ensuing centuries, although western societies gradually became more egalitarian, they also grew ever more complex, so that, ironically, their administration required ever more, not less, specialisation and expertise. As Max Weber famously pointed out in the 1920s, the result was an increasing tension between the views and theoretical sovereignty of the people, and the real power of the unelected bureaucrats and specialists who actually ran the modern nation.

That conflict has only got worse. With every new scientific and technological advance, our societies need more and more experts of every kind, generate more and more knowledge, and inspire more and more administrative policy. That has brought great benefits in public health, social welfare and economic vitality. But it also requires us to place ever greater faith in distant, opaque groups and mechanisms. Too much technocracy and managerialism runs the risk of policymaking that is bad, corrupt, or divorced from the concerns of “ordinary” people, which in turn destroys trust and creates an angry backlash – witness the aftermath of the financial bailout after 2008, Brexit, Trump and the rest.

As Rosenfeld shows with a wealth of examples, faith in popular wisdom and suspicion of “experts”, too, can be traced back to the origins of modern democratic thought in the 18th century. Disdaining expertise, rejecting orthodox truths, valorising the feelings of “ordinary” people and promising simple, quick solutions is not a new recipe: it’s been the alternative logic of “populist truth” across the western world for the past 300 years, from Thomas Paine to Donald Trump, from Eva Perón to Viktor Orbán. For democracy to work, it needs always to navigate between the Scylla of technocratic authoritarianism and the Charybdis of demagoguery.

The more we are divided by inequality, the harder it becomes to find the common ground on which our politics depends

So, as Lenin said, what is to be done? To her credit, Rosenfeld doesn’t shirk this question (nor the related one of how far our recent trajectory differs from past episodes of unbalanced populism). What history shows is that democracy depends on a shared commitment to verifiable truth and truth-telling – but also that this construct is inherently fragile and under unceasing pressure. Understanding this, she suggests, should help us to revitalise the norms and institutions (the media, judiciary, education) that traditionally have allowed societies to harmonise expert knowledge and popular sense for the common good.

But even that won’t be enough. Hovering over her arguments are two even larger quandaries. The first, which Rosenfeld raises herself, is the moral failure of our economic system. The story of modern democracy is also the story of modern capitalism. But the more we are divided by gross and growing inequality, the harder it becomes to find the common ground on which our politics depends.

Democratic politics is also, by and large, national politics. Perhaps that, too, is part of the problem. All the biggest challenges of our time are transnational: mass migration, growing inequality, the onset of ecological Armageddon. It’s arguable that the politics of the nation state have become at best irrelevant, and at worst a hindrance, to tackling such global challenges. The outlook is grim. Yet it’s a tribute to the quality of this pithy, illuminating book that one nonetheless ends it provoked and inspired, rather than dispirited.


Phil Hill: George Mason University Report on Online Education Deeply Flawed!

Dear Commons Community,

My colleague, Fred Lane, alerted me to a report, titled “Does Online Education Live Up to Its Promise? A Look at the Evidence and Implications for Federal Policy” [mfeldstein.us13.list-manage.com]  From what I can see the report has not been published or subjected to a peer review.  Regardless, it is getting some attention in the media.  An abstract of this report appears below.  Phil Hill on his  blog earlier this week provided a response to “this deeply-flawed report.”  I agree with one of Hill’s  points that it is not easy to wade through, largely because of its wide-ranging discussion of for-profits, online history, past federal policy, a snapshot of research on learning outcomes, and a discussion of current policy debates. Online learning is no longer new and has twenty-five years of research behind it. It is too simple, for instance, to consider online learning as one entity. A MOOC online course is very different than a self-paced, adaptive learning online course is very different than a faculty-led, high interaction online course is very different than a blended learning course, etc.  Hill also mentions this report references several studies from the California Community College system, mostly from years ago, describing how students “were less likely to complete online courses and when they completed them, less likely to pass them”. Yet the authors did not look at the trends within this system, as easily found in the most recent Distance Education report from the system, where the gap in performance overall for online versus tradition is closing rapidly.

For those interested in the issues of online education, I would suggest the original report makes for okay reading even if flawed.  However, I strongly suggest that you read Hill’s response to clarify your overall opinion.





Spiros Protopsaltis and Sandy Baum

January 2019


Technology has the potential to increase access to education, enhance learning experiences, and reduce the cost of providing high-quality postsecondary education. However, despite the explosive growth of online education, which has been disproportionately large in the for-profit sector, our review of the evidence shows that this potential has not been realized. Instead, on average fully online coursework has contributed to increasing gaps in educational success across socioeconomic groups while failing to improve affordability. Even when overall outcomes are similar for classroom and online courses, students with weak academic preparation and those from low-income and under-represented backgrounds consistently underperform in fully-online environments. Success rates are lower and employers—in addition to students, faculty, academic leaders, and the public—attribute lower value to online than to classroom degrees. A strong body of evidence, as well as industry best practices, have consistently emphasized the critical role of frequent and meaningful interaction between students and instructors for increasing the quality of the online educational experience and improving student outcomes and satisfaction. Weakening federal requirements for regular and substantive interaction between students and faculty in online courses would likely decrease educational quality, further erode employer confidence in the value of online credentials, increase barriers to postsecondary success, and expand opportunities for some institutions to exploit vulnerable students and federal student aid programs.

New York State Getting Ready to Ban Teachers from Carrying Guns into Schools!

Dear Commons Community,

New York State is getting ready to ban teachers from carrying guns into schools under a broad gun control package set to pass the Legislature today or tomorrow.

“Right now under New York law, if a district decides it wants to arm school personnel, it can,” said state Sen. Todd Kaminsky, the Nassau County official sponsoring the bill to outlaw such moves. “I believe it’s misguided. It’s not focused on the real problem.”

Supporters of arming teachers say it would allow them to protect students if a shooting erupts in school. But Kaminsky says most teachers don’t want to roam the halls looking for active shooters.

“Teachers I talk to just want to teach,” he said.

Districts could still have armed security in schools if they want, Kaminsky said.

The bill to outlaw teachers from carrying guns in school is part of an expansive gun control package that is set to be taken up by the state Senate and Assembly today.

Other than a measure passed last year to take firearms out of the hands of domestic abusers, the package is the first dealing with gun control that will pass the Legislature since 2013, when Gov. Cuomo pushed through the SAFE Act in the wake of the 2012 Sandy Hook Elementary School shooting in Newtown, Ct.

The Republicans who controlled the Senate until this January refused to consider additional measures. But with Democrats now in control of state government, the gun control bills are set to sail through.

Other legislation in the package includes expanding the timeline for background checks on gun purchases flagged for further review to 30 days from the current three, and a “red flag” bill allowing family members, school officials and law enforcement to petition a judge to take guns away from people they believe pose an “extreme” risk to themselves or others.

The Legislature will also push a New York ban on possession and sale of bump stock devices like the one used in the 2017 Las Vegas shooting massacre. The devices accelerate the firing rate of semiautomatic weapons. It’s already illegal in New York to attach bump stocks to firearms.

Gov. Cuomo, who has criticized President Trump and congressional Republicans for wanting to roll back gun control measures, is expected to sign the bills.

But Tom King, an NRA board member from New York and president of the state Rifle and Pistol Association, argued that none of the changes will improve public safety.

“This is exactly what we feared (when the Democrats won control of the state Senate),’ King said. “This is a case of the Democrats coming in, running wild, writing bills on everything they can think of, and then trying to pass as much of it as they can.”

 The New York State Legislature and Governor Cuomo are on the right track.


Charter Schools Suffer Setback in Aftermath of Los Angeles Strike!

Dear Commons Community,

The New York Times has a featured article this morning examining the aftereffects of the Los Angeles teachers’ strike on the charter school movement.  It essentially sees charters schools as suffering a major setback both locally in Los Angeles and across the country.   It also takes aim at Eli Broad, a major funder of charter schools in California.  Here is an excerpt:

“Carrying protest signs, thousands of teachers and their allies converged last month on the shimmering contemporary art museum in the heart of downtown Los Angeles. Clad in red, they denounced “billionaire privatizers” and the museum’s patron, Eli Broad. The march was a preview of the attacks the union would unleash during the teachers’ strike, which ended last week.

As one of the biggest backers of charter schools, Mr. Broad helped make them a fashionable and potent cause in Los Angeles, drawing support from business leaders like Reed Hastings, the co-founder of Netflix; Hollywood executives; and lawmakers to create a wide network of more than 220 schools.

Mr. Broad was so bullish about the future of charter schools just a few years ago that he even floated a plan to move roughly half of Los Angeles schoolchildren — more than 250,000 students — into such schools. In 2017, he funneled millions of dollars to successfully elect candidates for the Board of Education who would back charters, an alternative to traditional public schools that are publicly funded but privately run.

His prominence has also turned him into a villain in the eyes of the teachers’ union. Now Mr. Broad and supporters like him are back on their heels in Los Angeles and across the country. The strike is the latest setback for the charter school movement, which once drew the endorsement of prominent Democrats and Republicans alike. But partly in reaction to the Trump administration, vocal Democratic support for charters has waned as the party has shifted further to the left and is more likely to deplore such schools as a drain on traditional public schools.

When the Los Angeles mayor, Eric Garcetti, announced a deal between the teachers’ union and the school district after the weeklong strike, it became immediately clear that the fate of charter schools was part of the bargain: The union extracted a promise that the pro-charter school Board of Education would vote on a call for the state to cap the number of charters.

It was the latest in a string of defeats for a movement that for over a decade has pointed to Los Angeles and California as showcases for the large-scale growth of the charter school sector.


It is still unclear how much practical impact the deal will have on charters. Charter school supporters are lobbying the school board, which has steadfastly supported charters for more than a decade, to vote down the resolution for a charter school cap this week. Even if it passes, advocates are certain to take the fight to Sacramento, where a bill calling for a moratorium seems likely. They will argue that charters have given poor students and students of color essential options for better schools.

But the defeat in the court of public opinion is clear: After years of support from powerful local and national allies — including many Democrats — charter schools are now facing a backlash and severe skepticism.

Over the past two years, charter school supporters were dealt painful political defeats in California, New York, Massachusetts, Illinois, Michigan, Wisconsin and other states.

As the push for alternatives to traditional public schools has come to be more associated with President Trump and his secretary of education, Betsy DeVos, the shift in Democratic Party politics has been especially pronounced. President Barack Obama supported expanding high-quality charter schools, and pushed teachers’ unions to let go of some of their traditional seniority protections and put more emphasis on raising student achievement.”

The article is a good analysis of the present state of the charter school movement.  It started with much hope to assist public schools in this country and unfortunately was turned into a political football.  With Donald Trump and Betsy DeVos supporting them, charter schools have become political liabilities for Democrats.





World Economic Forum’s Hidden Agenda: Replacement of the Human Work Force with Machines!

Dear Commons Community,

The World Economic Forum held its annual meeting in Davos, Switzerland last week.  World  business leaders met to discuss major developments and  efforts in global  entrepreneurship.  Kevin Roose, a columnist for Business Day and a writer-at-large for The New York Times Magazine, has an article on what he calls “the hidden automation agenda.”  Here is an excerpt (the full article is below):

“In public, many executives wring their hands over the negative consequences that artificial intelligence and automation could have for workers. They take part in panel discussions about building “human-centered A.I.” for the “Fourth Industrial Revolution” — Davos-speak for the corporate adoption of machine learning and other advanced technology — and talk about the need to provide a safety net for people who lose their jobs as a result of automation.

But in private settings, including meetings with the leaders of the many consulting and technology firms whose pop-up storefronts line the Davos Promenade, these executives tell a different story: They are racing to automate their own work forces to stay ahead of the competition, with little regard for the impact on workers.

All over the world, executives are spending billions of dollars to transform their businesses into lean, digitized, highly automated operations. They crave the fat profit margins automation can deliver, and they see A.I. as a golden ticket to savings, perhaps by letting them whittle departments with thousands of workers down to just a few dozen.”

The article is a bit scary but the future it portends will happen. Exactly when is difficult to say.  But once artificial intelligence matures, there will be no stopping the profit motives of many corporations to use it to the fullest.  We don’t have a plan for the workers displaced.




The Hidden Automation Agenda of the Davos Elite

By Kevin Roose

Jan. 25, 2019

DAVOS, Switzerland — They’ll never admit it in public, but many of your bosses want machines to replace you as soon as possible.

I know this because, for the past week, I’ve been mingling with corporate executives at the World Economic Forum’s annual meeting in Davos. And I’ve noticed that their answers to questions about automation depend very much on who is listening.

In public, many executives wring their hands over the negative consequences that artificial intelligence and automation could have for workers. They take part in panel discussions about building “human-centered A.I.” for the “Fourth Industrial Revolution” — Davos-speak for the corporate adoption of machine learning and other advanced technology — and talk about the need to provide a safety net for people who lose their jobs as a result of automation.

But in private settings, including meetings with the leaders of the many consulting and technology firms whose pop-up storefronts line the Davos Promenade, these executives tell a different story: They are racing to automate their own work forces to stay ahead of the competition, with little regard for the impact on workers.

All over the world, executives are spending billions of dollars to transform their businesses into lean, digitized, highly automated operations. They crave the fat profit margins automation can deliver, and they see A.I. as a golden ticket to savings, perhaps by letting them whittle departments with thousands of workers down to just a few dozen.

“People are looking to achieve very big numbers,” said Mohit Joshi, the president of Infosys, a technology and consulting firm that helps other businesses automate their operations. “Earlier they had incremental, 5 to 10 percent goals in reducing their work force. Now they’re saying, ‘Why can’t we do it with 1 percent of the people we have?’”

Few American executives will admit wanting to get rid of human workers, a taboo in today’s age of inequality. So they’ve come up with a long list of buzzwords and euphemisms to disguise their intent. Workers aren’t being replaced by machines, they’re being “released” from onerous, repetitive tasks. Companies aren’t laying off workers, they’re “undergoing digital transformation.”

A 2017 survey by Deloitte found that 53 percent of companies had already started to use machines to perform tasks previously done by humans. The figure is expected to climb to 72 percent by next year.

The corporate elite’s A.I. obsession has been lucrative for firms that specialize in “robotic process automation,” or R.P.A. Infosys, which is based in India, reported a 33 percent increase in year-over-year revenue in its digital division. IBM’s “cognitive solutions” unit, which uses A.I. to help businesses increase efficiency, has become the company’s second-largest division, posting $5.5 billion in revenue last quarter. The investment bank UBS projects that the artificial intelligence industry could be worth as much as $180 billion by next year.

Kai-Fu Lee, the author of “AI Superpowers” and a longtime technology executive, predicts that artificial intelligence will eliminate 40 percent of the world’s jobs within 15 years. In an interview, he said that chief executives were under enormous pressure from shareholders and boards to maximize short-term profits, and that the rapid shift toward automation was the inevitable result.

“They always say it’s more than the stock price,” he said. “But in the end, if you screw up, you get fired.”

Other experts have predicted that A.I. will create more new jobs than it destroys, and that job losses caused by automation will probably not be catastrophic. They point out that some automation helps workers by improving productivity and freeing them to focus on creative tasks over routine ones.

But at a time of political unrest and anti-elite movements on the progressive left and the nationalist right, it’s probably not surprising that all of this automation is happening quietly, out of public view. In Davos this week, several executives declined to say how much money they had saved by automating jobs previously done by humans. And none were willing to say publicly that replacing human workers is their ultimate goal.

“That’s the great dichotomy,” said Ben Pring, the director of the Center for the Future of Work at Cognizant, a technology services firm. “On one hand,” he said, profit-minded executives “absolutely want to automate as much as they can.”

“On the other hand,” he added, “they’re facing a backlash in civic society.”

For an unvarnished view of how some American leaders talk about automation in private, you have to listen to their counterparts in Asia, who often make no attempt to hide their aims. Terry Gou, the chairman of the Taiwanese electronics manufacturer Foxconn, has said the company plans to replace 80 percent of its workers with robots in the next five to 10 years. Richard Liu, the founder of the Chinese e-commerce company JD.com, said at a business conference last year that “I hope my company would be 100 percent automation someday.”

One common argument made by executives is that workers whose jobs are eliminated by automation can be “reskilled” to perform other jobs in an organization. They offer examples like Accenture, which claimed in 2017 to have replaced 17,000 back-office processing jobs without layoffs, by training employees to work elsewhere in the company. In a letter to shareholders last year, Jeff Bezos, Amazon’s chief executive, said that more than 16,000 Amazon warehouse workers had received training in high-demand fields like nursing and aircraft mechanics, with the company covering 95 percent of their expenses.

But these programs may be the exception that proves the rule. There are plenty of stories of successful reskilling — optimists often cite a program in Kentucky that trained a small group of former coal miners to become computer programmers — but there is little evidence that it works at scale. A report by the World Economic Forum this month estimated that of the 1.37 million workers who are projected to be fully displaced by automation in the next decade, only one in four can be profitably reskilled by private-sector programs. The rest, presumably, will need to fend for themselves or rely on government assistance.

In Davos, executives tend to speak about automation as a natural phenomenon over which they have no control, like hurricanes or heat waves. They claim that if they don’t automate jobs as quickly as possible, their competitors will.

“They will be disrupted if they don’t,” said Katy George, a senior partner at the consulting firm McKinsey & Company.

Automating work is a choice, of course, one made harder by the demands of shareholders, but it is still a choice. And even if some degree of unemployment caused by automation is inevitable, these executives can choose how the gains from automation and A.I. are distributed, and whether to give the excess profits they reap as a result to workers, or hoard it for themselves and their shareholders.

The choices made by the Davos elite — and the pressure applied on them to act in workers’ interests rather than their own — will determine whether A.I. is used as a tool for increasing productivity or for inflicting pain.

“The choice isn’t between automation and non-automation,” said Erik Brynjolfsson, the director of M.I.T.’s Initiative on the Digital Economy. “It’s between whether you use the technology in a way that creates shared prosperity, or more concentration of wealth.”



Frank Bruni Interviews Gina Raimondo and Concludes the Democratic Party Needs to Understand Where it Stands with Corporate America and Its Workers!



Dear Commons Community,

Since the 2016 elections and the impressive victories in the Congressional, state, and local races, Democrats have been on a high.   Passionate candidates such as Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez representing the mosaic of the diversity in this country are invigorating the Party and garnering a good deal of attention from the media.  Frank Bruni in his column yesterday sent out a yellow flag to Democrats not to take for granted that they will likely need the support of American corporations and workers if they are to win the presidency in 2020.  To make his point, he interviewed Gina Raimondo, the moderate Democratic Governor of Rhode Island.   In referring to her, he comments that it takes a lot of spine to be a moderate Democrat and centrist these days. Here is an excerpt (the full column is below.)

“She winces at talk of a top marginal tax rate of 70 percent and cringes at the growing use of “corporatist” as a slur against Democratic politicians deemed too cozy with business interests. She thinks that big companies often need to be prodded forcefully to do right by their employees, but that it’s bad policy and bad politics to paint them as the enemy…

 …“At the end of the day,” Raimondo said, “people want a decent job, and I think they thought that I was the candidate who was going to bring that to them and their families.”

And that’s a political reality — and a glimpse into the electorate — that shouldn’t be forgotten as Democrats plot their course. The media attention to full-throttle progressives among newly elected House Democrats is disproportionate to their numbers, and it sometimes obscures a sizable, practical middle. Besides, their more moderate peers are the ones who wrested seats from Republicans in districts that, like America, aren’t deep red or emphatically blue.”

I think Governor Raimondo  is giving Democrats good advice.



The Loneliness of the Moderate Democrat

‘It takes a lot of spine to be a centrist in America today.’

By Frank Bruni

Opinion Columnist

January 26, 2019

PROVIDENCE, R.I. — I did it. I found a significantly accomplished, defensibly qualified Democratic officeholder who isn’t flirting with — and hasn’t fantasized about — a presidential run in 2020. I had to take the train to Rhode Island, where we talked over pizza and eggplant parmigiana. We drank wine, too. It helps these days.

Her name is Gina Raimondo. She’s the governor of this state. She just began her second term after being re-elected by a margin of more than 15 percentage points, and you would think that this commanding victory plus her youth (she’s 47), her working-class background, her educational pedigree (Harvard, Rhodes scholar, Yale Law), her role as the chairwoman of the Democratic Governors Association and her situation far from the nation’s swampy and unpopular capital would start chatter about a move there. But no. Crickets.

The most obvious reason? Her relationship to the Democratic Party of the moment. Both stylistically and substantively, she’s out of sync with it.

She can’t tweet worth a damn and the same goes for Instagram. She winces at talk of a top marginal tax rate of 70 percent and cringes at the growing use of “corporatist” as a slur against Democratic politicians deemed too cozy with business interests. She thinks that big companies often need to be prodded forcefully to do right by their employees, but that it’s bad policy and bad politics to paint them as the enemy.

She recalled an exchange with college students not long ago. One of them said: “I get who you are. You’re one of those spineless centrists.”

“And I was like, ‘Excuse me?’,” she said. “It takes a lot of spine to be a centrist in America today. You get whacked from the left and whacked from the right. That’s my life. I get whacked.”

Moderate Democrats have certainly had their day and their sway. In fact the passions of the left arise in part from how much compromise there has been — and here we are stuck with Donald Trump. The rage of less moderate Democrats like Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez is earned and righteous. And Raimondo said precisely that to me.

But Ocasio-Cortez is by no means the whole of the Democratic Party. And is the leftward lurch that she personifies the best and safest bet for 2020? I worry, because there’s no political priority higher than limiting Trump to one term. Raimondo also worries — a lot.

“So many Democrats just assume we’re going to win,” she said. “They underestimate how hard it’s going to be.” And it might be a serious tactical mistake, she added, to nominate any candidate who seems to be at war with capitalism itself or entertains the idea of a guaranteed minimum income.

“We have become the party that is anti-business,” she told me. “We need to be the party of work.”

She acknowledged that “the system we have today is totally broken.” She cited grotesque income inequality. She noted that too many Americans have no economic security and no prospects for achieving it.

“But I fall in the camp of: Let’s fix it,” she said. “Let’s embrace business to come to the table. Someone needs to make the case that it’s in the best interest of businesses and wealthy people to be better corporate citizens. Pay for health care. Help people get their college degree. Pay for job training.”

Along those lines, she recently proposed that companies doing business in Rhode Island be taxed up to $1,500 annually for every employee who is enrolled in Medicaid because he or she can’t get health insurance through a company-sponsored plan. “I hope that they’re embarrassed,” she said.

But, she added, “Where I think we are at risk is if all we do is beat up and crap on businesses.”

That’s an exaggeration of where the party is, but I take her point. And I’m fascinated by her unflashy example and the questions it raises about how we currently accord importance to politicians and how much that really relates to their impact.

Journalists obsess over the most camera-ready emissaries and provocative assertions, and we often outsource our judgment to social media. To go viral is to be relevant. “In the future,” the Politico media columnist Jack Shafer wrote a few days ago, “your news source of choice will contain only stories about Donald Trump and Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez.” Shafer forgot Beto O’Rourke, which is funny, because he once wrote an excellent broadside about how political reporters can’t forget him.

When I checked social media during Raimondo’s re-election campaign, I mostly saw people bashing her, and she wasn’t bothering to engage with that hate. I assumed she was in trouble.

But she won her primary against a progressive rival by more than 20 points, then trounced her Republican opponent in the general election, 52.8 percent to 37.3 percent. (Third-party candidates received the remainder of the vote.) She had ample support in the end. It just didn’t show up on Twitter, where an overwhelming majority of Americans still spend no time at all.

And that support undoubtedly reflects the concrete difference that Raimondo has made over the past four years. With aggressive tax incentives, she persuaded some two dozen companies to expand or establish operations in Rhode Island, creating what The Times’s Katharine Seelye described as a “frenzy of economic and job development.” For most of the year before she took office, the state’s unemployment rate was well above the nation’s; at the end of last month, it was the same — 3.9 percent.

Thanks to her advocacy, Rhode Island is among a minority of states in which community college is free. And thanks to a tax that she levied on large commercial trucks, its awful infrastructure is receiving desperately needed repairs and upgrades.

K-through-12 public education, however, remains a mess. And Raimondo has stains on her record, including the botched rollout of a $650 million public-assistance computer system that wasn’t ready, wreaking epic havoc. To get re-elected, she raised — and spent — significantly more money than her opponents. And many Democrats fairly question whether her corporate giveaways had to be as generous as they were.

But some of them obviously backed her anyway. “At the end of the day,” Raimondo said, “people want a decent job, and I think they thought that I was the candidate who was going to bring that to them and their families.”

And that’s a political reality — and a glimpse into the electorate — that shouldn’t be forgotten as Democrats plot their course. The media attention to full-throttle progressives among newly elected House Democrats is disproportionate to their numbers, and it sometimes obscures a sizable, practical middle. Besides, their more moderate peers are the ones who wrested seats from Republicans in districts that, like America, aren’t deep red or emphatically blue.

“I don’t think the lefties can win a general election,” Raimondo said. But, she conceded, “Who knows? I’m not running in 2020. I could have missed the boat.”

Trump Meets With Ultra-Right Group Led by Clarence Thomas’ Wife, Ginni Thomas!

Ginni Thomas

Dear Commons Community,

Maggie Haberman and Annie Karni have an article in this morning’s New York Times describing a meeting held last Thursday between President Trump and a group of ultra-conservatives led by Ginni Thomas, the wife of Justice Clarence Thomas.  It is unusual for the spouse of a sitting Supreme Court justice to have such a meeting with a president, and some close to Mr. Trump said it was inappropriate for Ms. Thomas to have asked to meet with the head of a different branch of government.  Here is a brief excerpt:

“A vocal conservative, Ms. Thomas has long been close to what had been the Republican Party’s fringes, and extremely outspoken against Democrats. Her activism has raised concerns of conflicts of interest for her husband, who is perhaps the most conservative member of the Supreme Court.

During the meeting last Thursday in the Roosevelt Room, which was attended by about a half-dozen White House aides, one woman argued that women should not serve in the military because they had less muscle mass and lung capacity than men did, according to those familiar with the events. At another point, someone said that gay marriage, which the Supreme Court determined in 2015 was the law of the land, was harming the fabric of the United States. And another attendee was dismissive that sexual assault is pervasive in the military.”

Her views as described in the article are depressive enough but especially so given who her husband is.


Thank God that Trump’s “Cruel Joke” is Over!

Dear Commons Community,

President Trump announced a temporary end to the government shutdown yesterday or what the New York Times editorial staff called  his “debacle” and “cruel joke.”   Trump looked trodden in making the announcement.  Ann Coulter who helped him create this mess tweeted that he was “the biggest wimp ever to serve as President of the United States.”  And if all this was not enough, his associate, Roger Stone was indicted and arrested yesterday by the F.B.I.  on seven counts related to Russia’s meddling in the 2016 election, witness tampering, obstruction of justice, and making false statements. Below is a recap of Trump’s day courtesy of the Times editorial staff.

If my mother was still alive, she would suggest to the President that he say a novena!

Most important, we can all be glad the federal workers are back at their jobs.



Trump’s Shutdown Was a Cruel Joke! 

By The Editorial Board

Jan. 25, 2019


What a debacle President Trump’s shutdown proved to be — what a toddler’s pageant of foot-stomping and incompetence, of vainglory and self-defeat. Mr. Trump tormented public servants and citizens and wounded the country, and, in conceding on Friday after holding the government hostage for 35 days, could claim to have achieved nothing.

He succeeded only in exposing the emptiness of his bully’s bravado, of his “I alone can fix it” posturing. Once upon a time, Mr. Trump promised that Mexico would pay for a wall. He instead made all Americans pay for a partisan fantasy.

Maybe you want a wall. Can you possibly argue that Mr. Trump’s shutdown strategy advanced your cause? He made the right decision on Friday — to sign a bill reopening the government through Feb. 15, giving lawmakers time to reach a permanent deal. But he could have had this same outcome without a shutdown. He ultimately agreed to the sort of bill that Democrats have been pitching for weeks — one that contains not one dollar in wall funding.

In his announcement, the president struggled to obscure his failure with yet another rambling infomercial about the glory of walls. “No matter where you go, they work,” he said (raising the question of how you can get there if, in fact, there’s a wall in your way). He had nothing of substance to offer beyond the usual specious claims that only his wall can end the border flood of drugs, crime and migrant women who have been duct-taped and stuffed into vans by human traffickers. To repeat: Fewer border-crossing apprehensions were made in 2017 than at any time since 1971; drugs are overwhelmingly smuggled through established points of entry; and the only crisis at the border is a humanitarian one, of people fleeing violence and seeking asylum — again, mostly at established points of entry — under international law.

There is nothing to celebrate about this sorry shutdown, though it’s perhaps understandable that congressional Democrats were reveling in Mr. Trump’s collapse. Members of Mr. Trump’s conservative fan base demonstrated that, even if the president continues to insist on alternative facts, they are capable of acknowledging that truth.

Within minutes of the announcement, the bomb-throwing pundit Ann Coulter — among those credited with having scolded Mr. Trump into rejecting the temporary funding bill passed by the Senate last month — tweeted her judgment:

“Good news for George Herbert Walker Bush: As of today, he is no longer the biggest wimp ever to serve as President of the United States.”

The president tried to stand tough for Ms. Coulter and her ilk. Even as federal workers lined up at food banks, sought unemployment benefits and took backup gigs driving for Uber, he insisted he would not give an inch. He stormed out of meetings with Democratic leaders. He indulged in a public spat with House Speaker Nancy Pelosi over his State of the Union address. He tweeted angrily. On Thursday, he was still vowing, “We will not cave!”

But on Friday he caved. With a growing number of overworked, stressed-out air traffic controllers calling in sick, staffing shortages at two airports on the East Coast began to snarl air travel. The spectacle of enraged travelers, canceled flights and imperiled safety turned up the heat on the White House and Congress.

Republican lawmakers were already in a foul mood. On Thursday, the Senate voted on, and failed to pass, two competing plans for reopening the government. Afterward, there were reports of sniping and finger-pointing within the Republican conference.

Along with their concerns about the human cost of the shutdown, Republicans were no doubt antsy about the negative impact the shutdown was having on their president’s public standing. Polls consistently showed that most Americans did not support the shutdown and that most blamed Mr. Trump for it. An ABC poll released this week put Mr. Trump’s approval rating at 37 percent and showed him to have the lowest two-year average approval of any president in the past seven decades. Perhaps he noticed that a poll released on Wednesday found that 59 percent of Americans thought he cared little about their problems.

On top of all that, the Russia investigation hit the headlines again, when, in a predawn raid on Friday, F.B.I. agents — working without pay — arrested Roger Stone, a longtime adviser to Mr. Trump. Mr. Stone has been indicted on seven counts related to Russia’s meddling in the 2016 election, including witness tampering, obstruction and making false statements.

It was, in short, shaping up to be a very bad day for the president, who really cannot be blamed for wanting to change the story line.

Of course, the new narrative — that Mr. Trump got owned by Ms. Pelosi — isn’t likely to sit well with him, either. And who knows what he’ll do next to try to salve his ego, and salvage some political capital with the minority of Americans who still seem inclined to support him.

In his Friday remarks, Mr. Trump made threatening noises about declaring a national emergency if Congress cannot reach a compromise by the time this agreement expires. Polls suggest that such a move would be wildly unpopular, causing the president and his party even more grief. Maybe that danger will motivate congressional Republicans to hammer out a deal without him.

Here’s hoping that this mess leaves Mr. Trump with a vital lesson — even if he doesn’t care about a functional government, the rest of America does.